The cave paintings ancient humans made are not simply depictions of wild animals, as was previously thought; they represent star constellations in the night sky, and were used to represent dates and mark events such as comet strikes — to keep track of time.
Some of the world’s oldest cave paintings have revealed how ancient people had relatively advanced knowledge of astronomy, according to researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Kent, UK.
The artworks, at sites across Europe, are not simply depictions of wild animals, as was previously thought — according to the study was published in Athens Journal of History.
What do the cave paintings reveal?
The cave paintings with animal symbols that ancient people made represent star constellations in the night sky, and were used to represent dates and mark events such as comet strikes, analysis suggests.
They reveal that, perhaps as far back as 40,000 years ago, humans kept track of time using knowledge of how the position of the stars slowly changes over thousands of years.
“Early cave art shows that people had advanced knowledge of the night sky within the last ice age. Intellectually, they were hardly any different to us today,” said Martin Sweatman, School of Engineering,
“These findings support a theory of multiple comet impacts over the course of human development, and will probably revolutionise how prehistoric populations are seen,” he added.
How did ancient humans define dates?
The findings suggest that ancient people understood an effect caused by the gradual shift of Earth’s rotational axis.
Around the time that Neanderthals became extinct, and perhaps before mankind settled in Western Europe, people could define dates to within 250 years, the study shows.
How did understanding astronomy aid ancient humans?
The findings from the cave paintings indicate that the astronomical insights of ancient people were far greater than previously believed
Their knowledge may have aided navigation of the open seas, with implications for our understanding of prehistoric human migration
Where were these cave paintings found?
Researchers studied details of Palaeolithic and Neolithic cave art featuring animal symbols at sites in Turkey, Spain, France and Germany.
They found all the sites used the same method of date-keeping based on sophisticated astronomy, even though the art was separated in time by tens of thousands of years.
Which cave paintings did researchers study?
The team confirmed their findings by comparing the age of many examples of cave paintings — known from chemically-dating the paints used — with the positions of stars in ancient times as predicted by sophisticated software.
1. Researchers clarified earlier findings from a study of stone carvings at one of these sites — Gobekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey — which is interpreted as a memorial to a devastating comet strike around 11,000 BC. This strike was thought to have initiated a mini ice-age known as the Younger Dryas period.
2. They also decoded what is probably the best-known ancient artwork — the Lascaux Shaft Scene in France. The cave painting, which features a dying man and several animals, may commemorate another comet strike around 15,200 BC, researchers suggest.
3. The world’s oldest sculpture, the Lion-Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave, from 38,000 BC, was also found to conform to this ancient time-keeping system.
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